Military Movements Review: May

YGTV’s article series continues - each month, David Sanchez will review military visits to the Rock. Drawing on his in-depth knowledge and photographic skills, the articles will provide readers with valuable background facts to the aircraft and vessels that pop into the Rock.

By David Sanchez

As Gibraltar lived through another month of lockdown, the military arrivals scene took on a very interesting new direction, one which was admittedly directly opposed to my earlier predictions!

Sadly, the Royal Navy has not been seen on our shores for quite some time now and the lack of presence is being felt. Still despite this, the Royal Air Force has been operating from Gibraltar on a record-breaking level this month as shall be seen. Lastly and most interestingly, the United States Department of Defense charter vessel fleet was the most common defence related visitor at sea for May, the last time that they visited us more than British maritime assets in a month was 1991 during Operation Desert Storm according to my records. Being a big fan of US military equipment, I have no complaints at all!

At sea, May has been a very quiet month with nothing grey or black seen on the Rock. However, 4 United States DoD charter arrivals kept the forlorn maritime enthusiast busy.

Visits commenced on my birthday, the 8th with the DoD charter vehicles carrier Liberty Promise anchoring off the Eastern Side. This was followed by the return of the cargo vessel Mohawk at the same location on the 10th. Our old friend the MoD charter Ro-Ro Eddystone returned to the Rock for a brief visit to the Naval Base on the 12 marking the only British vessel to call this month. The 15th saw Liberty Peace, a sister ship to Liberty Promise repeat the operation carried out by her sister and on the 21st the return of a long lost visitor wrapped up a quiet month at sea with the DoD charter tanker Overseas Mykonos calling in for bunkers off Rosia Bay after quite a few months absence. 

As is habitual this year, it was the air picture that proved way more interesting than the rather staid maritime scene. My records show that since the arrival of the first RAF A400 in January of 2013, this month was far and away the busiest for arrivals of this kind to the Rock. Although we only had A400 visits in May, they were practically a daily occurrence and kept aviation enthusiasts gratefully occupied during the long lockdown weeks!

Activity began at the very start of the month with ZM407 calling in on the 1st. This was followed by ZM404 arriving on the 4th and repeating its visit the very next day. The 11th saw ZM403 arrive and the 15th was the turn of ZM406. 

On the 18th we were treated to two of these large transport aircraft in a day with ZM410 joined by ZM416. The next day ZM402 joined her sisters in making a trip to our City.

The tempo did not ease off towards the end of May with ZM404 returning on the 25th, ZM419 on the 26th and ZM404 making it four visits in as many weeks on the 29th.

One would have to go back to the days preceding the sailing of the Task Force to the Falkland Islands or perhaps Cold War exercises to find a higher tempo of RAF transport visits. In all, 8 separate airframes visited RAF Gibraltar in May. A very welcome change from the placid days of former months when we were lucky to have two such visits. Whatever the reason, and it is not in the scope of this article to venture why, it has injected a feeling of renewed relevance for what was once seen locally as a slightly overlooked and under used corner of British military real estate. If this combines with increased activity at sea (of the right sort of course!) that can only be a good thing for our most strategically placed base.

Finally, once again I must mention that I was gratified to see recognition given to personnel of all services who have stood by us during this time. Many are relatives and personal friends and beyond the uniforms we all stood shoulder to shoulder to do our duty for the health and wellbeing of all here in Gibraltar. It is this cheerful comradeship in adversity that gives Gibraltar its almost mythical status among the Armed Forces and causes our chests to swell with pride at the mention of the British Army, Royal Navy or Royal Air Force. Long may this continue and increase yet further!

As lockdown eases and summer begins to make its presence felt, let us hope that in the air and crucially at sea, our good friends in the Armed Forces keep their much-welcomed visits up! 

Keep safe, keep well!